|The Sands Hotel and Casino view from the Science Museum - Singapore|
A few months back, one Saturday after work my friends and I decided to pack our backpacks and buy ourselves two-way bus tickets to Singapore. Living in Kuala Lumpur, that was a very easy thing to do as the tiny island country is only about 5 - 6 hours away depending on how long the bus drivers decide to stay on each stop, and how long the traffic and queue is to pass through the immigration gates both from the Malaysian side to the Singapore border.
It was going to be my first time in Singapore. As the bus rolled off the modern highways of Malaysia I thought of Manila and what my brother would probably be doing at that moment. I thought of Bicol and what my parents would probably be doing at that hour. And I thought why travelling was so difficult when I was still in the Philippines when it was this easy now that I'm working in Malaysia. Going cross country, on a whim, was something up there among the list of impossible things to do.
Every time I go through immigration I always have this small fear of getting indefinitely detained and questioned and then turned home just because I'm carrying a Filipino passport. I guess it comes from stories I've heard of Filipinos getting detained in airports and then sent home. Most of them would have tourist visas. But without any intention of returning home. I can't say I blame them, my father was an illegal worker himself for 16 years in Japan, but these actions have serious repercussions not just in the travelling status of Filipinos but in the families they leave behind. I know. I've been there.
As I walked towards the Singaporean immigration officer I felt the butterflies in my stomach fly. I probably just imagined the stern, serious look, or is it a requisite that all immigration officers should always look serious and never smile? The officer gave a cursory look at my passport, asked how long I was staying, and stamped. I heaved a sigh of relief and smiled.
Being a "whim trip", none of us booked any room nor planned any itinerary. We arrived in the streetlamp lit streets of Singapore at four in the morning. We had absolutely no idea where we were staying nor where we were going. On top of that, we only had Malaysian Ringgits in our pockets with only one of our friends carrying some Singapore dollars on hers. It was enough for us to get a cab and buy ourselves some dimsum which we decided was a little bit expensive seeing the size of what was advertised as large dimsum. Singapore is an expensive country, and we are not Singaporeans.
At 5AM Singapore time we started our tour. Needless to say, it was a walking tour. No Singapore dollars, no cab. And since it was the wee hours of the morning there was no point in finding a hostel either. We found ourselves aimlessly walking the streets of Singapore's financial district. It was just like the streets of the Makati financial district in Manila where I used to work, except in Makati the streets are never empty of people. I guess I was expecting something a little bit flashier. Then came the roar of a Ferrari.
We ended on the shores of the Marina Bay, bags behind our backs. We watched the lights coming from the three towers of the Marina Bay Sands and the interesting shapes of the concrete petals of the Science Museum. This alien landscape made me think of sci-fi movies. I tried to take some pictures but the light was too poor for my cellphone's camera. It was just like me to come to a trip unprepared, I vowed next trip I'm taking a better camera. We met stylish Singaporeans just coming out of classy clubs. I wonder what they must have thought about our baggy shorts and baggy shirts?
Tired and sleepy from the overnight bus trip we tried to sleep it off on the benches dotting the river passage beside the Theatre on the Bay, like some helpless and homeless street people. We were probably the only helpless and homeless street people of Singapore that morning.
As the sun reached its zenith, and after a bit of a struggle understanding the bus driver's Singlish, we found ourselves on the busy thoroughfare of Orchard road. Instead of the Singlish and Chinese we heard people talking in Tagalog everywhere. It was just like being in Manila again. It was Sunday. All the Ates were out taking their days off. And they were all in their best clothes. High heels and skinny jeans and sometimes daring tops. Others in flowing dresses. All were excitedly chattering, sometimes shouting in Tagalog. It was their day to be themselves, to eat adobo at the Filipino restaurant and reconnect with Filipino friends. To alleviate homesickness and get in touch with the latest news back home. The Ates are the helps and yayas we grew up with and who had left us looking for greener pastures. Who else from the Philippines have not gone abroad in search of greener pastures anyway? While the rest of the world travel to seek themselves and find adventure, the Filipinos leave home to find a better life. Or at least we hope. While most of the world can easily come home when they get tired of travelling, most Filipinos banish themselves, sometimes for life. I have yet to visit a country where I won't run into any fellow Filipino.
Right there on Orchard road, with its rows of signature and designer clothes which none of us could afford, we found an echo of home. Albeit a small corner. But as the day wore on, we were reminded that we were not in Manila anymore after all. The train stations with their fast escalators and fast trains were all modern and clean. The city was all about efficiency. The architecture modern. Here people could afford to walk the streets in Prada and Louboutins.. in Manila Gap is a signature brand.